What does abiding in Christ mean? It sounds like religious jargon, but if we put it in everyday language, it means relying on the resource that He placed within us the moment we decided to surrender the control of our lives to Him.
It is the Holy Spirit who enables us to stay on the right path, by helping us to focus on our goal. What is the goal of the Christian life anyway? Jesus defines the goal as a healthy intimate relationship with God. He tells us that everything about how we are to live can be summarized in obedience to two important commandments. We are to develop an all-encompassing love for God and a love for others equal to the love we have for ourselves. Those who were concerned about their boundaries asked Him what were the greatest commandments.
The result of focusing on the goal for our lives is that in our daily living we become less preoccupied with our own feelings and yearnings and see the larger vision of what God is doing in our world. As we travel the road that leads to home we keep our eyes fixed on the destination. We anticipate the day when our transformation will be complete. Our lives will reflect God’s love both back to Him and enrich the lives of those around us.
When we have lived long enough, we know that deep intimate relationships don’t just happen. We need to work at them. In John 15, Jesus spells out the steps we need to take in building a healthy intimate relationship with God. He is not afraid to bring up some things we would rather avoid. He talks about cutting off dead branches in our lives. He speaks of pruning healthy branches. That does not sound like something we want to do.
The spiritual disciplines help us learn to rely on that source He has placed within us. What does that look like? How would we get rid of what might be unhealthy branches in our lives? They are the branches that do not produce fruit. Nothing good or lasting comes from them. To get rid of the unproductive branches we need to think about our choices. We need to reflect about how we spend our time. We need to consider the value of our activities. We must decide to eliminate unfruitful activities from our lives. This does not mean becoming totally task oriented. That is not the example that Jesus showed us.
One of the best examples that I have discovered was in the life of Catherine Marshall. This Christian author, through her writings became for me a spiritual mentor. She shared insights from her personal journey of faith, when it was still not fashionable to do so. In one of her books she tells of her decision to take a fast from criticism.
Slowly the Holy Spirit convicted her of her critical spirit and she began to realize how she quickly spoke caustically of others. She freely offered negative comments about them. What she saw was that this was having negative impact on her own spiritual wellbeing. So she decided to take fast from critical comments. She started the day determined to honour this commitment. However, before long she found herself in conversation. Quickly critical comments would spring to her lips. She had to learn to stop them, to break the habit. It was necessary to exercise spiritual discipline and choose to love and not criticize. In this way she allowed Lord to remove these unfruitful branches from her life.
Reliance on the power of the One who lives within us will make our transformation possible. We will learn to willingly submit to the lopping off of dead branches and rejoice to see the increased fruitfulness of the pruned branches, issuing forth love for God and for those He loves – all people.